Archive for the 'weirdness' Category

February 13th 2014
Free speech and bad art at Wellesley

Posted under American history & art & Gender & students & the body & weirdness & women's history

Wake up!!!

Wake up!!!

Have any of you been following the fracas over the temporary installation of Tony Matelli’s “Sleepwalker” statue on the Wellesley College campus?  Lenore Skenazy published a faux-outraged commentary in the Wall Street Journal that summarizes the controversy and predictably makes fun of the campus feminists who object to the statue, rather than questioning the aesthetic judgment of the art museum director who decided to put up this crummy piece of art in the first place:

“Wellesley should be a safe place for their students, not a triggering one,” wrote one petition-signer, as if the statue actually made the campus dangerous. That’s a brand-new way of looking at—and trying to legislate—the world. So I checked in with Robert Shibley, senior vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, about the Wellesley panic. “It’s the idea that any kind of discomfort is a form of assault,” he noted.

Once we equate making people feel bad with actually attacking them, free expression is basically obsolete, since anything a person does, makes or says could be interpreted as abuse.

Lisa Fischman, director of the art museum on campus, wrote an open letter to students explaining that, to her, the Matelli statue depicts a vulnerable, pathetic stranger. (He’s sleepwalking in his skivvies in the snow, after all.) But to the petition-signers, her point of view is apparently not worthy. One wrote that Ms. Fischman’s letter, like the sculpture itself, “should occupy a less intrusive place.”

Yet another wrote: “A school endorsing the decision to expose its female students to this . . . violates civil rights laws.” I’ll stop quoting these petition-signers now—their words are triggering some of my own fears.

Since when is it a “civil right” not to feel disturbed by a piece of art? And who gets to decide which art we chuck? You don’t like the “Sleepwalker,” but I don’t like “Winged Victory.” It stirs scary thoughts of decapitation. Dear Louvre, please stash that headless gal in the attic.

Yes, it’s over-the-top to describe an inanimate piece of sculpture as an assault.  But it’s also ridiculous to say that questioning Fischman’s judgment assaults liberty of speech as well.  (They submitted a petition; they didn’t occupy the museum and hold her at gunpoint in her office until she had the sculpture removed.  What the hell–it was a good effort to try to sell more copies of Skenazy’s four-year old book!) Continue Reading »

16 Comments »

December 29th 2013
A guiding set of principles for the professional use of social media

Posted under American history & bad language & jobs & weirdness

cowgirl2After the flamewar over rage at the current academic job market, in which the rage was redirected onto Tenured Radical for daring to question the long-term effectiveness of complaining about the behavior of one search committee, TR wrote a post suggesting that it’s time to have a conversation about the professional use of social media:

My question is this: given that social media is ubiquitous among academics, and given that our colleagues and students are sometimes justifiably angry about important things, ought we not to have some more serious discussions about what kind of speech we do — and do not — find acceptable? Should we not begin to identify what kinds of virtual conversations lead to real change and community building; and which are destructive, vengeful or personal hubris masquerading as charismatic leadership?

There are clear signs that if we do not begin to have these conversations among ourselves, others will seize the initiative and faculty will find ourselves perpetually in the position of responding to university attorneys, trustees, politicians and administrators.

Great idea, right?  So far the flamewar at Tenured Radical has 190 comments (and counting!), whereas after three days the post suggesting that we all come together to figure out how to use social media productively for professional purposes has 34 comments.  That’s a little clue as to how easy and fun it is to tear someone down, make assumptions about their motives and professional experiences, and generally act like a jerk in social media, whereas it’s relatively difficult to build something together.

Please note:  this is not a blog post calling for civility, which I agree can be cover for preserving the power relations of the status quo.  This is a blog post proposing some guiding rules for the professional use of social media for those of us in academia (but they may apply in other professions, too).  As we’ve all been reminded endlessly over the past decade, The World Is Flat, and graduate students can email, Tweet, and comment on the blogs of full professors, and vice-versa.  This familiarity with one another over social media has been for the most part a good thing for everyone involved, but TR is right that we need to think about formulating some community standards before they’re formulated for us by our educators and/or employers.

This blog has always been about community-building, so friends, let’s rent a barn and put on a show!  At the risk of being torn to shreds myself, I’ll propose a set of guiding principles just to get the conversation going.  You tell me what you think I’ve missed and where I’m wrong, and together we’ll propose a set of guiding principles for the professional use of social media.  After a few days, I’ll publish our collectively revised or rewritten list of guiding principles. Continue Reading »

59 Comments »

December 11th 2013
Philanthropy: nostalgia, disgust, and objective value

Posted under childhood & jobs & local news & students & unhappy endings & weirdness

cowgirlgunsign1For the past twenty years or so, I’ve been a semi-regular donor to my private undergraduate college.*  I write some pretty big checks in reunion years, and while I sometimes miss a year or two, I’ve given that institution between $1000-1,500 in the past four years.  On the other hand, the pleas from my graduate institution go right into the recycling bin, as does their monthly alumni magazine.  (Honestly:  what a waste of paper and fuel!)  When I get mail from this university, I am disgusted that this large, private research university (which benefits from all kinds of government contracts, including morally objectionable work for the Pentagon, etc.) dares to ask me (me!)for a share of my modest income.

But let’s think about which institution has done the most to help me earn that modest income:  clearly, it’s my graduate institution, which granted me the Ph.D. that made me eligible to work as a tenure-track historian in the first place.  Besides:  my undergraduate college charged me and my parents thousands of dollars a year for the honor of matriculating, whereas I went to grad school for free!  It’s true:  I had a T.A.ship and two years of dissertation support, so I not only didn’t have to pay or even borrow a dime, they paid me!  So why do I react with such disgust and resentment when my graduate institution asks me for money?  That seems pretty unfair, doesn’t it?  But the fact of the matter is that I was happy in college, and I was (mostly) unhappy in graduate school, at least in my first year there. Continue Reading »

52 Comments »

December 10th 2013
A case for the Oxford comma (as if it needs to be made in the first place.)

Posted under bad language & fluff & GLBTQ & weirdness

Love at first sight! Now that would be a big news day.

I had never heard of “the Oxford comma,” but apparently it’s just a serial comma, the use of which many find duplicative. However, it can clarify the meaning of a sentence: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs, boys, and girls,” versus “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs, boys and girls.” To me, NOT using the serial comma makes sentences look like a spreadsheet formula with a missing parenthesis, but to each his own however stupid or illiterate it looks I guess. Continue Reading »

7 Comments »

November 23rd 2013
JFK puts the zap on Peggy Noonan’s brain

Posted under American history & class & Gender & the body & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

Peggy Noonan desperately tries to find something nice to say about John F. Kennedy, because he was assassinated and because he was the only Roman Catholic U.S. President:

Two small points. It is interesting that JFK was celebrated as the first modern president, the first truly hip president, and yet the parts of him we celebrate most are actually the old virtues. He lied to get into the military, not to get out of it. He was sick, claimed to be well, and served as a naval officer in the war. In the postwar years he was in fairly constant physical pain, but he got up every day and did his demanding jobs. He played hurt. He was from a big, seemingly close family and seemed very much the family man himself. What we liked most about him wasn’t hip.

And he was contained. He operated within his own physical space and was not florid or mawkish or creepily domineering in his physical aspect. Continue Reading »

10 Comments »

November 7th 2013
Competitve motherhood and envy meet the oppression olympics.

Posted under art & bad language & book reviews & class & Gender & publication & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

Just go read Cristina Nehring’s review of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013). I don’t want to exerpt any of it, it’s just so unbelieveably mean. So go ahead–I’ll wait.

I haven’t read the book, but it strikes me as completely appropriate (insofar as I can tell through this rather nasty review) that Adams writes about her own experiences of parenting a child with Down syndrome, as the subtitle suggests. As one commenter at the Chronicle notes: “I admire Adams’s restraint in focusing on herself. I am alarmed when parents seem to think that all aspects of a child’s growing up are theirs to tell. Adams has told a story about herself and is clearly careful to draw boundaries between her story and her son’s story, as any thoughtful writer would do.”

Word. Too many parents rush in to tell their children’s stories, making them props in their books or characters in blog posts.

I also think it’s an interesting and rather brave choice for a woman memoirist not to make herself the virtuous heroine of her own story. (I’ll tell you right now: I don’t think I could do it.) Continue Reading »

25 Comments »

November 5th 2013
Election Day 2013: secesh fever!

Posted under American history & local news & weirdness

seceshIt’s election day again here in the U.S. of A.! And in northern Colorado, we also have the opportunity to vote on secession from Colorado. Crazy? We haz it! It’s probably best that we remain attached to Colorado so that it can help us dilute the crazy. (The pro-secesh campaign signs say something like, “vote yes–send a message.” I considered voting yes, because the message would be, “we’re idiots up here!” but I thought the better of it in the end.)

Long story short: the more conservative and agricultural parts of Colorado feel like they’re a “disenfranchised minority” because Colorado is an urban state and more people live in Front Range cities and towns in or proximate to Denver than live in small-town northern and eastern Colorado, and because sophisticated urbanites tend to favor things like civil unions and responsible gun safety legislation. So the secessionists are half-right: they’re a “minority” of voters, but they’re certainly not “disenfranchised.” Here in Colorado, where we don’t labor under that bull$hit Connecticut Compromise, it’s people and not acres of land that get to vote, and they’re sore about that. Continue Reading »

15 Comments »

November 3rd 2013
Denver, you have a drinking problem.

Posted under class & local news & unhappy endings & weirdness

bovinemetropolisI’ve just returned from another weekend getaway to Denver, and once again I’m completely appalled by the use of alcohol there by putative adults. I’ve written about this here before, and last night’s exposure to pathological drinking was pretty epic.  To wit:

  • Waiting to check into our swank “boutique hotel,” Magnolia Hotel, the guest ahead of us commented that “I’m not drunk!. . . at least not yet.
  • We had a terrific supper at Euclid Hall, where we sat at the bar right in front of the kitchen and where one of the fun, young chefs slipped us a sample of the Pad Thai Pig Ears while we were waiting for our orders.  After supper I went to the bathroom where at 8:20 p.m. I was treated to the sounds of someone puking up her beer.  I repeat:  it was 8:20 p.m.
  • At 9:20 a.m., I got into an elevator in which I could smell that someone was still metabolizing alcohol from last night.  Eeewww.  Seriously?  Can you just stay in your room until you sleep it off? Continue Reading »

32 Comments »

October 23rd 2013
Citations, the Chicago way.

Posted under American history & art & bad language & students & unhappy endings & weirdness

Why, oh why is it so difficult (if not impossible) to get students to use Chicago-style citations properly in history essays?  In evidence-intensive disciplines like mine, footnotes or endnotes (and no “works cited” page!) are the only kind of citations that make sense.  And yet, every semester, more than 60% of my students ignore the posted requirement that they use Chicago-style citations.

I assume this is because APA/MLA-style citations (parentheses with page number/s and a “works cited” page) are required in more disciplines.  And believe me, I’m grateful that my students (however mistakenly) use some kind of evidence and reasonably consistent citations in their papers.  But for historians, who (pardon my disciplinary pride here) should use more than one f^(king text or source per citation, it’s completely idiotic, not to mention disruptive of the flow of the paper and just goddamned ugly.  Continue Reading »

46 Comments »

September 20th 2013
An almost unbloglich level of Franzenfreude

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & European history & Gender & race & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

Check it out:  Amanda Hess’s analysis of Jonathan Franzen’s recent essay in which he screams at the children to get off his lawn, and to take their Twitter-machines with them:

Franzen blames the Internet for eradicating “the quiet and permanence of the printed word,” which “assured some kind of quality control,” in favor of an apocalyptic hellscape punctuated by “bogus” Amazon reviews and “Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion.” Back in Franzen’s day, “TV was something you watched only during prime time, and people wrote letters and put them in the mail, and every magazine and newspaper had a robust books section, and venerable publishers made long-term investments in young writers, and New Criticism reigned in English departments.” He goes on: “It wasn’t necessarily a better world (we had bomb shelters and segregated swimming pools), but it was the only world I knew to try to find my place in as a writer.”

Wow.  Not too many white people can openly express their nostalgia for segregation or apartheid and get their 6,500 word essays published in The Guardian!  But that’s not all:  apparently, guys like Franzen really are victims!  Of something.  The important thing to know is that Jonathan Franzen can no longer “find his place. . . as a writer” in our modern dystopia.  But the pre-internet world doesn’t seem all that awesome in his telling:

And then there is the tale of the German chick, told to pinpoint exactly the moment Franzen became an angry person. Continue Reading »

42 Comments »

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